For the current research, packed lunches and/or snacks of more than 600 third and fourth graders were photographed and catalogued. Parents consented to the study, but were not notified ahead of time of the exact day the researchers would look at their child's lunch.
On the day in question, nearly half the students brought lunch from home. Almost all of them also brought a snack. The other 325 students brought only a snack and planned to buy a school lunch.
Just over one in four lunches met a majority of the school lunch standards set for cafeteria meals. These standards call for a half a cup of fruit (excluding juice), 3/4 cup of vegetables, 1 ounce of grains, 1 ounce of meat/protein and 1 cup of milk.
Fifty-nine percent of kids brought a sandwich, the most commonly packed lunch food, according to the study. Water was the beverage of choice for 28 percent of lunches, according to the study.
A parent's education level didn't seem to make a difference as to what food was packed. More than 80 percent of the students' mothers had college educations or higher, noted Sandon.
"Often times we think higher education level in mothers would translate into better nutrition practices, but this is not necessarily the case," said Sandon. "It's important to get this information out there to help make parents aware that they may not be making the best choices for their kids."
Parents also face several challenges in packing healthful lunches for their children, she said. The parents may be time-crunched and need to pack food that does not require refrigeration or reheating, perhaps accounting for the high proportion of prepackaged foods.
"Convenience of preparation and convenience of nonperishable items are largely what they're thinking when they put things together," Sandon said.
Yet there are still ways to swap a high-calorie, less-nutritious food for a healthier option.
"The Dietary Guidelines for Americans re
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